An Andalucian paradise for walkers south of Granada
Who says you can’t live on a view? In 2002 William and Robert bought an old ruined farmhouse and some uncultivated land with jaw dropping views in the Alpujarras on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada National Park. Today they have created not just a home for themselves, their dogs and chickens but also the most perfect self catering base – CORTIJO OPAZO – for exploring these stunning valleys and mountains. And did we mention their two acre garden which they created from scratch, an earthly paradise to lose yourself in. This month they tell us about their adoptive Spanish home – the history and culture, the landscape, the people and their bespoke walking tours in the Alpujarras.
Breathtaking views from Cortijo Opazo
Spain, for us, presented itself as a ‘land of opportunity’. As the third largest country in Europe it is not surprising that Spain has a lot to offer in terms of scenery and landscape. This huge country is essentially a large plateaux bordered by contrasting mountain ranges, including the alpine like Picos de Europa in the north, the huge and ever changing Pyrenees to the east, and towards Africa, the emblematic mountains of the Sierra Nevada which, despite their location so far south on the continent, retain pockets of snow throughout the year. Seen from the north they create a dramatic backdrop to one of Spain’s most beautiful cities, the moorish kingdom of Granada. The evocative picture of the Alhambra Palace with its pink fortifications, bordered by palm trees and set against a snow capped mountain skyline, in turn contrasted by a startlingly mediterranean blue sky, is classic picture postcard material. It was the melting snows that gave life to this historic city, and these same snows are what give character to the enchanting hillsides and valleys found to the south of the Sierra Nevada, in a region known as the Alpujarras.
This area was treasured by the Moors who occupied Spain for nearly 800 years up until 1492. They developed a series of complex irrigation channels and constructed terraces on the side of the mountains in order to grow a diverse range of vegetables and exotic fruits. As such it became for them a paradise. The crystalline melt waters of the high mountains criss cross the valleys in little channels and deliver water to the stone terraced walls, making what would otherwise be an arid landscape into an oasis of cultivation. The chestnut trees, seen growing together in crowded clusters along the various water coarses, bear witness to the success of this ancient form cultivation. Tiny villages, largely unchanged by modern development, cling precariously to the steep valley sides. Linking these villages is an ancient and complex network of mule tracks, making this an ideal holiday destination for the walker who wishes to explore a relatively undeveloped area in respect of rambling tourism.
After enjoying a holiday here in 2002 we decided to have a major ‘down-sizing’ life change and took the opportunity presented to us by the purchase of an old ruined farmhouse situated on a parcel of land that had not been cultivated for 30 years or more. We then set about renovating the building and turning it into a home for ourselves, our two dogs and various chickens. We have also created two well appointed and very comfortable SELF CATERING HOLIDAY APARTMENTS on the ground floor of the old farm house, a perfect destination from which to explore this fascinating area. The land has now been returned to cultivation and a large part of it has been dedicated to the our passion of gardening and vegetable growing, made possible by the availability of irrigation water from the high Sierra Nevada mountain region.
Part of the two acre gardens at Cortijo Opazo
Although surrounded by the peace and tranquility of the countryside we are just a two hour drive to Malaga Airport and a short walk from the villages of Pitres and Pórtugos, both of which provide us with all we need in terms of food shops, a weekly market, bars and restaurants. There is even a 24 hour medical centre! We seldom feel the need to leave these mountain valleys. Our neighbour, Antonio, who was born here and whose grandparents lived a simple life in Cortijo Opazo, says that while the area was remote and inaccessible, there was never any need to leave because the Alpujarras could provide you with everything you needed for life – food, water, sunshine and even clothing made from woven cloth. Indeed weaving is still to be found as an important artisan profession in the local villages.
An aerial shot of Cortijo Opazo
Juan is the local shepherd who passes by Cortijo Opazo every day. Now in his 80s, walking for him has always been an occupational necessity rather than a leisure pursuit, but he still knows every fold of the upland pastures where he used to take his sheep to graze in the summer months. This area is ideal as a walking destination whether you are interested in high altitude treks or casual meandering around the fascinating villages of the Alpujarras. The GR7 path (Gran Recorida, long distance footpath from Athens to Algeciras) crosses close to Cortijo Opazo and there is an extensive network of other tracks to choose from. Since many of the routes are often along old mule tracks the steepness is no more than a loaded mule can manage! The high mountain peaks are also available to the more intrepid walkers. Mulhacen is the highest summit on mainland Spain at 3548 metres but there are many more that exceed the 3000 metre mark. During the summer there is a minibus service that will take walkers from the nearby village of Capileira up into the National Park of the Sierra Nevada in order to start an ascent on Mulhacen. This makes the walk accessible to a wider range of walkers, but for the more ambitious it is just about possible to take a route there and back in one day if you start at the village of Trevelez, highest town in Spain and home of the famous air dried ham. On this route you will pass through the magical hanging valley known as the Siete Lagunas, or Seven Lakes. This hidden upland valley is home to a wide assortment of wildlife and botanic specimens, some of which can only be found in the Sierra Nevada. Even on the hottest days of the summer you can still find ice in its lakes and snow in the folds of its mountain crags.
You can walk most of the year from Cortijo Opazo even when the first snows have fallen
Traditionally the most popular time of the year for a walking holiday in southern Spain is during the months of April and May, then September and October, but we get out into the valleys to enjoy a walk during most months of the year. Every season has something to offer. We are situated at a height of 1250 metres (roughly the height of Snowdon in Wales), so it never gets unbearably hot here. One of our favourite months for walking is November, when the first snows have fallen in the high mountains, the autumn colours are in full glory and the skies are a dazzling blue colour. In January and February the weather is often settled and warm during the day, and it is the only time to experience the sight of the almond blossom in flower, another of Spain’s spectacles. July and August can be rather hot, but we get up early to work on the land – as do most of the Spanish residents in the area – and it really is a special time to explore the coolness of a summer’s morning in the green Alpujarran valleys. If you want to attempt high altitude walking then the summer is probably the best time to do it since the snow will have retreated to allow clear access. If it is 30 degrees in the lower valleys then it will be less than 20 degrees in the high mountains, and as long as you have good sun protection and enough water, you’ll have a great day’s hiking.
At CORTIJO OPAZO you will find everything you need to get the most out of the area, from the moment you arrive. The accommodation is well equipped and very comfortable, with under floor central heating and a log burning stove to take the chill away during the cooler months, and various shaded terraces where you can sit and enjoy the sun and gaze at the scenery. It is said that the area has 320 days of sunshine per year, so there will be plenty of opportunity for this. The two acre garden really is something special and is there for you to find your favourite corner and enjoy. We prepare a pack of walking routes and maps for you to use free of charge and will always be able to give you the latest information on walking conditions and the state of the tracks. We both also enjoy cooking, so if you fancy a night off from self catering then you can enjoy one of our delicious home cooked meals, served on your terrace, out under the stars or by the side of you log fire, as fits the occasion and time of year.
All inclusive walking holidays.
At CORTIJO OPAZO you can also enjoy full board self guided walking holiday options. We will pick you up from the airport, transport you to Cortijo Opazo, and organise a fabulous week of walking for you along with food that may well be more memorable than the mountains themselves! Your accommodation will be in one of the holiday cottages here, so when you are not out walking you can enjoy all the luxuries of home and a gorgeous garden to meander through as well. See our’ website for more information about WALKING HOLIDAYS IN THE ALPUJARRAS.
Experienced walkers, Robert and William, can help you organise your own walking tour of the Alpujarras
A finally a note about Alpujarran Villages
Villages of the Alpujarras are characterised by their architecture. Clustered tightly together around the contours of the hills they look impenetrable. Streets are usually no wider than the breadth of a laden mule and narrow passageways twist and turn through their labyrinth. The houses are made of local stone with flat slate roofs supported by ancient chestnut beams. On top of the flat slate roofs is packed a layer of water proof clay know as launa. The crown of Alpujarrenean architecture is the distinctive chimney, perched like a top hat in a hundred different jaunty angles.
These villages are a pleasure to walk amongst. A hot summer’s day will reveal the ingenuity of their design, houses protected from the strength of the sun by thick stone walls and overhanging tinaos – a type of shaded verandah. The most typical examples are to be found in the high Alpujarras; they seem to straddle the 1000 metre level. It is possible that the Moors who built these settlements at this height knew what they were doing by locating their dwellings below the winter snow line but high enough to enjoy the cool mountain air in the summer. Towns in the valleys seem to have missed this trick.
Self catering holidays and full board walking holidays in the Alpujarras, at Cortijo Opazo WWW.CORTIJOOPAZO.COM